How was my trip to Amritsar, my friends asked me once I hit home turf again. It was a revelation, I answered. While nothing had changed outwardly, something inside me had changed following the trip. The two day visit could not have come at a more challenging time of my life, the boring details of which I will leave out. On to the actual destination and the experience of it all.
The Golden Temple is a structure that brings history and spirituality together and creates a strong touchpoint for its religious practitioners the world over. As I entered the scared premises, I realised that the din of chants, the frenzy of reaching the sacred sanctum and the needless fervor of asking and getting, were all lost in a calm sea of introspection. I entered the same zone with each step I took. The well organised ways of this temple of worship made the people standing in line forget all about their restlessness as they embraced the here and now. I took a few moments to simply marvel at everything around me, as I stood next to the large water body that cocoons the gleaming structure.
As I walked inside and stood praying with my daughter by my side and the throng of people peacefully gathered in the belly of the temple, I realised that a hushed silence from the crowd made it possible to actually listen to the words of the Kirtan happening inside, to let my soul literally sway to the rustic beats of the simple musical instruments giving company to the words that I could not understand cognitively, but words that brought tears to my eyes nonetheless – such was the beauty and aura of the entire experience.
We walked outside and decided to do some Sewa – a practice that many people indulge in. Sewa happens in the kitchens of this large Gurudwara where people gather to practice community service. Some serve food, others chop vegetables or even wash utensils. We chose to spray each other with soap and water as we stood in the assembly line, one with many strangers who stood there, praying and enjoying the community experience. Afterwards, we had a hearty meal called Langar, served by community helpers and other visitors practicing Sewa. As I left the temple premises, and walked through the old streets that clad its sides, I marveled at how much love I felt, without knowing a single person there personally.
Once we left the temple, shopping beckoned us. We bought jootis and Phulkari suits. We walked through the Hall Market lanes and marvelled at the exotic ware and the feast of colours that leapt out as smiling shop owners engaged us. Finally, we finished the afternoon with chicken at Bira’s chicken and a stroll through Lawrence Road, a more upmarket area of this town.
And then, the grand finale: The Wagah Border. Sitting as the demarcation between India and Pakistan, this is where the Line of Control can be seen with a rather dramatic change of the guards where both sides put up an offensive show.
For the first time, sitting there with Indians from all parts of the country and looking towards the gate where a stadium and similar seating accommodated Pakistanis, I felt a sense of belonging like none other. As the chants of Jai Hind rose higher and the soldiers kicked up their heels, their mustaches twirling with pride, I wondered at the scene before me. The people on the other side with their green flags were once a part of us. And yet today, we stand divided, united only by a sense of disdain for one another. That was just a tiny part of my overall feelings, quickly drowned by pride as I watched our soldiers performing for the gallery, vowing with each gesture to retain the integrity and safety of their motherland. The white line was carefully toed by both sides, yet never compromised. My daughter squeezed my hand and said, “this is why I want to be an officer when I grow up.”
All in all, Amritsar was a revelation. The love of God and the love of a country divided, make up this land of rituals and colour!